A Timeline of Technological Advancement as Told Through 15 Country Songs
Modern history has seen a whirlwind of technological innovations that have forever changed the way we communicate with one another. From the invention of the CB radio to the introduction of the first iPhone, the world has seen sweeping changes after the commercialization of each innovation. Despite the grumbles of our elderly neighbors and family members, technology has infinitely improved the lives of so many people. Thanks to innovations in communication technology, people today are able to connect with loved ones in ways that were never possible before.
If you’re a fan of country music, you probably know that the genre has a love-hate relationship with change. Many musicians’ songs are full of aching nostalgia for the “good ole days,” but times they keep on changing, and country music can’t help but change with it. Below you will find 15 country music songs whose lyrics reflect the technological innovations key to their time periods.
1975—C. W. McCall: "Convoy"
Although the CB (citizen’s band) radio was invented in 1945 by Al Gross, the inventor of the Walkie-Talkie and owner of the Citizen’s Radio Corporation, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the CB radio craze began. By the late 1960s technological advancements, including the use of solid state electronics, allowed the cost and size of CB radios to be greatly reduced, making the technology available to the general public whereas before it had only been available to specialists and enthusiast. Despite these advances, it wasn’t until the oil crisis reached a tipping point that the public discovered CB radio’s true potential. In the midst of the oil crisis, the Federal Government issued a nationwide 55 mph speed limit to conserve fuel. Although effective, the new rule cost truckers a significant amount money and time. Using their own trucker CB lingo, they began using handles (nicknames) on their CB radio to warn each other where the Smokey Bears (cops) had set up bear traps (speed traps) and where gas stations were cheapest. They even used it to set up convoys and blockades to protest the stricter rules and regulations placed on them by the Federal Government. This proved to be one of the first times that technological advancements in communication helped people to form community with people they had never met, to reach a common goal. This novelty song, in addition to others like “White Knight” by Cletus Maggard, introduced the public to the amazing potential of this technology.
1978—Paul Evans: "Hello, This Is Joanie"
In a modern world, where a diminishing number of people still have landlines, let alone an answering machine, it’s hard to believe that in 1978 when Paul Evans released “Hello, This is Joanie,” answering machines were state-of-the-art technology not widely found in American households. Although the first answering machine using magnetic recording (the same recording technology found on cassette tapes) was invented in 1898 by Valdemar Poulsen, it wasn’t until 1949 that the first commercially successful model called the Electronic Secretary was introduced to the American public. Even then, answering machines remained expensive and were confined to businesses and the wealthy. However, it wasn’t until the corporate restructuring of AT&T in 1984 that affordable models hit the market. The more modern digital answering machine, using solid state recording, wasn’t invented until 1982 by James P. Mitchell. Considering the limited availability of answering machines at the time of the song’s release, “Hello, This is Joanie” was technologically ahead of its time. Perhaps that is why it was Paul Evans’ first hit song in nearly twenty years. The song follows the story of a man who has a fight with his girlfriend after a long night of drinking. Rather than convincing her to stay, he lets her drive home. The next day he calls her home phone, but only gets the answering machine. Later, his friend calls him to let him know that Joanie died in a car accident.
1986—Randy Travis: "1982"
By the time Randy Travis recorded “1982” for his debut album Storms of Life, Operators were already a thing of the past; however, in the opening line of the song Travis sings “Operator, please connect me with 1982.” In the early days of telephones, operators were absolutely vital. In fact, early telephones did not even have numbers, the call was automatically forwarded to the operator when the phone left its holder. Phones that followed, required a person to first call the operator by dialing 0 for local calls or 00 for long distance calls. Then they would request that the operator “connect” them to a person or party line. The operator would then literally plug the line into the appropriate connection to complete the circuit on the switchboard. While the number of local customers remained small, an operators job was relatively easy. They were able to get to know their customers and often provided information such as weather, news, sports results, time of day, and even local gossip. As time went on, technological advancements and company policies heavily restricted what their operators could and could not say to customers; however, as this Randy Travis song and others such as “Operator” by Jim Croce show, there was still room for human connection. Eventually computers and more advanced digital technology made the need for operators entirely obsolete. Today operators are only needed to complete collect calls.
1991—Travis Tritt: "Here’s a Quarter [Call Someone Who Cares]"
Today you may still see pay phones dotting the urban landscape, but these once essential machines to American infrastructure have become nothing more than dilapidated relics. The first pay phone, invented by William Gray, was installed on a corner in Hartford Connecticut in 1889, just over one-hundred years before Travis Tritt politely gave his ex-girlfriend a quarter and told her to “call someone who cares.” The very first pay phones worked by notifying the operator using a tiny bell that a coin had been dropper into the machine. The operator would then connect the caller to their desired party. William Gray’s vision for public pay phones became a realized part of the American landscape for nearly a century. By 1990 there were more than 2 million pay phones in the united states alone. Today most pay phones have been either removed, or transformed. The iconic London pay phones have been converted into everything from mini art galleries, to info-stops for tourists.
1992—Hank Williams Jr.: "Fax Me a Beer"
Although the tone of “Fax me a Beer” is sarcastic at best, old Bocephus does hint that he wouldn’t be so frustrated by the changing times, if he could invent a machine that could fax him a beer or even “a real live girl.” This is of course meant to be funny, technology in the 90s was not capable of teleporting objects or people through space. Modern physicists however, have suggested that teleportation is theoretically possible using quantum physics. Physicists theorize that one could teleport objects by sending instructions to assemble the teleported object in another place using different molecules. Scientists have been able to teleport electrons, photons of light, and even calcium atoms. For a clearer picture of what physicists can and cannot accomplish using quantum teleportation, watch the video below. While fax machines today cannot teleport objects or people, they continue to be used in businesses, schools, and other organizations. Although invented in 1843 by a Scotsman named Alexander Bain, fax machines weren’t mainstream in American business until the 1980s. They continue to be popular despite the advent of email.
Like many country singers and fans, Hank Williams Jr. often yearns for a simpler time. Songs like, “A Country Boy Can Survive” (1981) and “It’s About Time” (2015) project a painful cry of nostalgia that celebrates the past for its rugged, tough characters and condemns modern country musicians for their “weird pop country sound.” It’s no surprise then that “Fax Me a Beer” features a similar sentiment. He laments the fast-pace of technological innovation, singing “what I thought was new last month this month is history.” It is true that it seems that as soon as you get your hands on the new best thing out there, Apple releases a newer and faster model, rendering yours tragically outdated. What’s more, many like Hank feel left behind and confused when the technology they have grown accustomed to becomes obsolete, leaving them unable to use the “29000 functions” on their “brand new VCR.” What remains true, regardless of complaints, is that this big ole world keeps on changing, so you might as well get used to it.
1994—Collin Raye: "That’s my Story"
In “That’s My Story,” Colling Raye sings the story of a husband who comes home in the morning after a long night of playing cards with his buddies to an angry wife who understandably suspects her husband of “hanky panky.” The husband at first claims that he fell asleep in the hammock outside, but his story soon unravels when his wife reveals that she put the hammock in the attic the week before. This leaves him unable to do anything but “beg for mercy and face the bitter truth.” At the end of the song he suggests that they “get a cellular phone” so she won’t have to worry. In 1994 at the time of the song’s release, cellphones were still a new technology not widely used by the public. In 1992, only two years prior, Nokia introduced the Nokia 1011, the world’s first digital handheld phone. It wasn’t until 1996, however, when Nokia released the Nokia 9000 that cellphones became truly popular. More technological innovations followed, creating phones that were more compact and increasingly able to perform more functions. In 2007 Apple released the first iPhone, forever changing the industry standard. Today people can communicate with one another in a plethora of ways including calls, texts, and video chats, but as anyone today will tell you, making communication easier doesn’t make people any more honest or reliable in contrast to what Collin Raye suggests.
1998—Cledus T. Judd: "First Redneck on the Internet"
Cledus T. Judd has been hailed as “country music’s answer to Weird Al Yankovic,” so it comes as no surprise that “First Redneck on the Internet” is full of rough, often self-deprecating humor about redneck stereotypes. In this song, Judd details the story of a man whose wife has “run off with [his] TV set,” leaving him distraught once he realizes he can’t watch Rick Flair’s title fight. After praying to God to help him, he finds what he believes is a new model of TV called Macintosh. When he opens the box he breaks “out in a cold, cold sweat,” from the realization that he was “the first redneck on the internet.” From there, Judd tells how he takes revenge on his ex-wife by draining her bank account, shutting her water off, and even emailing her boss to say that “she'd have his job by the end of the week.” In the end, his wife returns with the TV, but Judd unapologetically tells her to go “straight to AOL.” Although this song is meant to be humorous, it highlights real issues that continue to plague internet users to this day since the creation of the World Wide Web in 1990. People have a shocking amount of power and anonymity on the internet, allowing them to misuse and abuse their powers to scam others and wreak havoc. As Judd says himself, his character becomes a “bona fide, countrified, cyber-threat.”
1999—Alabama: Twentieth Century
Just before the turn of the Millennium, in the midst of a growing panic over Y2K, the imagined catastrophe in which people believed much of the new computers and electronics would crash causing everything from planes falling from the sky to the loss of essential financial records, Alabama released a song that was strikingly free of anxiety. While most of the world was worrying whether the practice of codding years only by their last two digits would cause the world’s technology to have a collective meltdown, Alabama was praising how far humankind had come in the last century. They mention everything from airplanes, air-conditioning, to the debut of television and the internet. Alabama wisely tells us that wishing time to stop is useless since “we can't go back even if we try” so “just smile and wave goodbye.”
2001—Blake Shelton: "Austin"
According to Time Magazine, by the end of 2013 nearly 41 percent of US households were wireless. Why use a landline when you can answer your cellphone from anywhere? Today that number is only growing as older adults and millennials alike drop landlines to save a few bucks on their monthly bills. The disappearance of landlines also means that traditional answering machine systems are becoming things of the past. What’s more, young adults increasingly shy away from the use of voicemail on their cellphones, preferring to text. This leaves “Austin” whose story relies on an answering machine severely outdated to modern listeners. Blake Shleton tells a story of a girl who leaves her lover to return to her hometown, without leaving a number behind for him to call her. Almost a year later, she calls his home phone to find an answering machine message that proclaims his love for her still. “P.S. if this is Austin I still love you.” Not only are answering machines becoming a thing of the past, but many millennials won’t even set up their voice mail box on their cellphones, let alone check them. This song shows too how relatively easy it was to disappear less than twenty years ago. In the song, her lover is literally unable to contact her because she didn’t leave a number. In today’s world, where most people are members of at least one form of social media disappearing is a much more difficult task.
2007—Brad Paisley: "Online"
“Online” is a humorous song co-written and performed by Brad Paisley in 2007 just before Myspace reached the peak of its success as the most visited social networking site in 2008, boasting 75.9 million visitors monthly. Myspace, which was launched on August 1st of 2003, introduced a whole new era of social media and became the predecessor to more modern platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat that have become an integral part of modern life. In Paisley’s song, he tells the story of a young dorky man who transforms himself on the internet into the cool and mysterious catch. Although humorous, the song exposes the problems that the anonymity of the internet produces. People can lie and deceive others for reasons as innocent as wanting to feel a little cooler, to reasons as terrifying as targeting and luring victims for robbery and sexual assault. Even if most people aren’t trying to catfish people or target victims, we are all perhaps a little guilty of lying on the internet to make ourselves more attractive.
2008—Alan Jackson: I Still Like Bologna
In the fast-paced world of today, filled with electronic distractions, Alan Jackson understands that no matter how great technological innovation is, there are some simple things in life that can never be replaced, like “bologna on white bread,” “the sound of a whippoorwill down a country road,” the grass between your toes, the sunset and a good woman’s love. Jackson tells us that he likes his “50 inch HD plasma” with its 500 channels, and the ease with which he can download music, but he finds himself mostly uninterested in his laptop and cell phone. Perhaps that is because although technology makes “life better in a lot of ways” there are some things it just can’t replace. So, take a break every once in a while and disconnect from it all.
2009—Brad Paisley: "Welcome to the Future"
In Brad Paisley’s hit, “Welcome to the Future,” he sings of his amazement at just how far we have come. Not only can you get Pac Man on your phone and watch TV anywhere anytime on tablets, computers, and smart phones, but we can also connect with people all over the world through video chats, texting, social media, and more. The connections people can make and maintain aren’t the only benefits, modern technology has expanded our world and contributed to changing social views. In the final line of the song, Paisley recalls that in high school the running back on the football team was threatened by the KKK for asking out the white homecoming queen. He marvels at how the collective will of people aided by technology designed to bring people together brought about real and significant change in the world. It is important for us to remember how powerful we can be when we stand together, and modern technology makes connecting with others to attain a common goal more possible than ever before.
2014—Miranda Lambert: "Automatic"
Country music has a love hate relationship with change. Many songs feature lyrics that glorify the past and criticize the present. As we can see, it isn’t just with Hank Williams Jr. who feels this way, country music diva Miranda Lambert shares his nostalgic views. Although a popular opinion, it isn’t productive to get so caught up in wishing for the past that you forget to live in the present. Just because things work differently in the present, doesn’t make them worse. Technological innovations have changed countless lives for the better. It has enabled thousands of people to save time and focus their energies on their families and their true passions. Before the 1930s women slaved away at their chores, spending hours a day doing the wash and going to the market since there were no refrigerators. Appliances freed up time for women to pursue their own projects and helped to inspire them to pursue careers and passions formerly closed to them. In the past, letters took days to arrive, but the advent of phones and eventually cellphones allowed people to speak to their loved ones with ease. So, while it’s good to recall the “good ole days,” just remember that the present has many advantages the past never had.
2014—Lady Antebellum: "Bartender"
Although Lady Antebellum’s “Bartender” isn’t specifically about technology—it’s more of a post-break-up-party-all-night song—it contains a key phrase you can hear uttered by many young people today. In the first lines of the song Hillary Scott sings, “all my girls just keep on blowing up my phone.” If you look up the phrase “blowing up my phone” on google, you’ll find that it means “to call someone repeatedly and/or send someone a lot of text messages.” What is interesting about this phrase isn’t the action it reflects, it is the fact that as new technology emerges, new ways of talking about that technology must also emerge. The phrase “blowing up my phone” is just one of many created within the last few decades to make communicating and describing our experiences easier. The emergence of new words and phrases shows how integral technology has become to our modern society.
2017—Luke Bryan: "Light it Up"
Cellphones make instant communication simple, perhaps too simple. Despite the countless benefits that cellphones bring and their potential for connecting people, they can also make people just a little bit crazy. In the modern dating scene, many will tell you that they spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying over text messages, or the lack thereof. People are quick to think their partners are ignoring them, and spend hours agonizing over the intended tone of a single text message. This can create an unhealthy obsession, as Luke Bryan points out in his song “Light It Up,” which features a man who obsesses over checking his phone, and often imagines buzzes or notifications that just aren’t there. The ease with which we can communicate with one another creates little room for independent space, and leads people to expect their SO to be in constant communication with them. Perhaps everyone should try to worry a little less and trust a little more.